Prairie View

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Cousin Bertha and the Muslims

I want to share a story I heard yesterday after my Uncle Perry's funeral--from J---, who is married to my cousin L----.  They live in eastern Ontario and work among many immigrants.  After having lived and worked for many years in Turkey, they have language skills and cultural insights that add to the effectiveness of their work.  Many of their friends and neighbors are Muslim. 

One of the community leaders among the immigrants is a Muslim man from Somalia.  I don't know his name, so I'll call him Mohammad, for convenience's sake.  He has been extremely welcoming to L--- and J---- and invited J----- to join a small group organized to provide assistance to struggling members of their community.  "I want you at the table," he said.  Mohammad reiterated this welcome even after J---- reminded him that, while she is happy to share in helping the Muslim community, she does so personally as a follower of Jesus rather than as a Muslim. 

Later, after a Christian who is a former Muslim began to conduct meetings to share his faith with others, a need developed for a new meeting place.  In another astonishing act of generosity, Mohammad allowed the facility he was in charge of to be used for this purpose.  I'm almost as impressed with the transparency of the Christians as I am with Mohammad's generosity and goodwill. The Christians made very sure Mohammad knew who was asking for the meeting place and what kind of activity would be conducted there. As J---- told  more of the story, I marveled at what I was seeing.  Humble acts of service by Christians, for Muslims can be extremely effective and far-reaching, with both immediate and long-term positive outcomes.  Political influence and maneuvering compare poorly with this approach.

As J-- told more of the backstory of Mohammad's  surprising openness to Christians, his family's story intersected with mine and L----'s, via a cousin of both my mother and L----'s father (siblings).  Their cousin, Bertha Beachy,* had served for many years at a hospital in Somalia, under Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).   Other non-government organizations (NGOs) were also active in the country at the same time.  Then a Marxist government came to power in late 1969, and all the NGOs fled, except the Mennonites. 

Staying, however, to keep the hospital and other help available to the Somalis could happen only if the Mennonites relinquished all control of the work they had begun and the facilities they had built.  What happened next was apparently retold for many years.  Mohammad was born perhaps 30 years later and heard the story from his elders. 

Instead of being in charge, the Mennonites became servants to the Somalis in every sense of the word.  The new leaders had few skills and little training in medicine or administration, but they stepped into their roles with the full support of those who had once been in charge, and the work went on.  As Mohammad heard the story, for seven years the Mennonites were the only NGO's in the country.  The Muslim community never forgot this powerful demonstration of humility and love. 

"Why did you stay?" Mohammad asked later of former Mennonite missionaries to Somalia, whom I will call James and Martha.  He was visiting a couple in a nearby nursing home in Ontario, with L----- and J----- having connected them and being present at the visit.

I don't know how James and Martha answered, but for L---- and J----, the answer provided one more reason for hope that someday the Muslim community in Ontario will have a Christian leader in Mohammad.   Humble service by faithful Christians all those decades ago in Somali had planted a seed that sprouted half a world away in Canada.  L--- and J--- are nurturing that plant, and someday God may cause it to bear fruit. 


*I remember when my mother hosted Bertha Beachy in Kansas.  Mom had served on a committee that planned a World Day of Prayer observance in cooperation with other Mennonites in the area.  At her suggestion, this committee asked Bertha to speak to this group.  On the Day of Prayer, the group met at Yoder Mennonite Church.   

Thursday, October 10, 2019


Last week during the days I spent at the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita, we met regularly throughout the event in groups of five or six people who had been previously assigned to help each other work on our individual challenges.  My group was very diverse, but it included several people who had unusual perspectives on education, the general topic of the challenge I was seeking help on. 

After I had presented the facts of my case, one of the other members of the small group asked a simple question:  "Is there diversity in your educational community?"  The person asking the question had every reason to be concerned about this aspect of people's lives.  She is an African American woman who exudes grace and dignity.  Her professional career began as a middle school teacher.  At some point she became part of the city council in Wichita and served later as the mayor of that city, one of the largest in Kansas.  I overheard her tell someone that she had "termed out" in one of those positions, meaning, I presume, that she had been re-elected until her term limits expired. 

When I asked for clarification about how she was defining diversity, she confirmed that racial and ethnic diversity is what she had in mind. 

Several problems surfaced quickly in my mind as I formulated an answer to this question.  Should I describe the situation in our attendance policy at Pilgrim (where admission at this point is actually limited to children from the families of people in sponsoring or supporting churches because of space limitations)?  Should I describe the mix of people who typically attend our church services?  Should I go into how adoption of children from other countries has diversified the racial makeup of families in the sponsoring and supporting churches?  I knew that I could not easily convey how families, churches, and schools are intertwined. In the end I listed racial and ethnic identities different from my own among the school-aged population, although I realized later that I had missed a few.

I took note since then of the mix on a typical Sunday morning in our church.  Of interest to me is that in every case, the non-typical identities are present because of adoption of children by a family from the dominant identity, or marriage between someone inside and someone outside of it.  In most cases,  immigration to the United States  is involved.   Last Sunday, as is true of most Sundays, these minority groups were represented in our morning worship service:  Asian (India and Japan), Hispanic, African American, and Native American.  Middle Easterners are not represented, and, of course, people of Western European descent are represented in great abundance.

The big idea I'm taking away from this observation is that we are incredibly blessed by this diversity.  While it's nice to be able to give a satisfactory answer to a concerned and powerful African American from Wichita, the main benefit is far more precious, although it can seem nebulous.  Every time we consider how our attitudes and ways of doing things look to someone whose background is different from our own and we engage these people with respect and kindness, we think and act in a way that is more nuanced, balanced, and effective than otherwise.  Because we actually live alongside people who are different from ourselves, we have many opportunities to be reminded of the necessity of openness to other people and other ideas.  Today I give thanks for this great privilege and pray that we don't squander it. 

Monday, October 07, 2019

Beachy Family History Tidbitrs

I updated some details below after my sister Linda provided them.

This past weekend, when my cousin Marland and his wife visited in Kansas, we shared bits of information about our common ancestors and relatives, mostly about our grandparents and Marland's mother, my 96-year-old Aunt Fannie Jane.  I decided to record these details here, mostly in order to make them available to others in the family.  A few may have showed up in past posts, and some are details that did not come up in conversations over the weekend, but they are known to me from other conversations.

My grandparents' names were Ananias J. Beachy (March 27, 1889-June 27, 1971--age 82) and Ella Mae (Shetler) Beachy (December 20, 1893-December 7, 1991--almost 98).  My grandpa was often called A.J.  and my grandma was often called Ellie, especially when people were speaking Pennsylvania German.  After her marriage, she was often referred to as "Nias Ellie," in the manner familiar to people with a similar heritage.  This custom may have begun as a simple way of distinguishing between women who had the same given name.  Giving the husband's name in conjunction with hers would have served as a useful designation.

My grandparents raised their family near Kalona, Iowa, and both of them are buried in the East Union Cemetery nearby, close to their family farm.  I believe they were both residents of this area before their marriage.  Although my information is not quite complete, I'll add here that my Shetler great grandmother's maiden name was Eliza Jane Kempf.  My Beachy great grandmother's maiden name was Fannie Miller.


Marland says that he heard from someone that one of my grandparents would have liked to leave the Old Order Amish church, but the other did not concur, and they never did so.  Marland did not know which one preferred to stay.  I'm guessing it was my grandmother.  I base that on the fact that she seemed to be happiest on her own turf, and did not enjoy travel and adventure as my grandfather did.
Later note:  Linda believes that this information may be conflated with the story of my Shetler great grandparents, whom I never knew.  It is said of them that one of them wanted to leave the Amish and the other didn't.

Linda also tells me of a strange twist in my grandparents' church affiliation that I wasn't aware of.  Ananias was actually part of the Mennonite church at one time, perhaps at the time when he and his sister Martha (my mother used to call her Sylvanus Martha) lived in California for a time.  Aunt Esther reported this. 


Neither of my grandparents was physically imposing.  My grandmother was even shorter than my mother who was 5' 1".  Marland told me that Grandpa was known to pick up his wife and twirl her around in a circle.  I really wish I could have seen this perfectly acceptable Amish dance move. It may have been my cousin Ella Jean Zook who witnessed and reported this.  During Ella Jean's childhood, she lived with her family in the house adjoining the "Dawdy" house where our grandparents lived, so it makes sense that she would have been among the most likely to observe this out-of-the-public-eye activity. 


While Grandpa's travels do not seem extensive by today's standards, for his time, he was a well-traveled man.  I remember him stepping off the train to visit us in Kansas on his way home from a trip to Mexico.  He had gone there as a member of the Amish Colonization board.  This group apparently explored options for new locations for Amish communities.  To my knowledge, the Mexico option never materialized.  Another one that did not materialize was one that my parents considered:  Uruguay.  Their interest was likely piqued by my grandfather's involvement in colonization efforts.

Much earlier, Grandpa donated a heifer to a farmer in Europe after World War II.  Unlike most other people who had donated livestock, Grandpa decided to travel to Europe with the heifer.  A newspaper photo survives from that experience.  Grandpa is standing next to an on-board stall with the heifer inside.

Even earlier than that, Grandpa traveled almost as far northwest as possible in the United States, and spent a season as a "migrant" worker who worked in the fruit harvest.  Letters to his girlfriend at the time survive from this experience.  He later married the girlfriend, Ella Mae Shetler.


The details below are recorded in the book containing Beachy family records.  Linda shared them with me in an email.  I've pasted part of it below.  My Beachy great grandparents moved around a lot.  From Indiana they moved to Illinois, then to Ohio, then to Texas.  From Texas, they moved back to Indiana and then later to Ohio again.  Fannie died in Ohio and Jonas moved to Iowa, but was buried beside Fannie in Ohio.  My great grandfather Jonas Beachy died eleven days after I was born. 

Jonas S. Beachy  April 24, 1860 - June 20, 1952
Fannie Miller  June 6-1866 - February 20, 1944
...were married on August 6, 1885

and Jonas and Fannie Beachy and their family lived in

1885-Ca. 1887 Newton County Indiana. Samuel was born there.
ca. 1887-1903  Arthur, IL.  Eight of their twelve children were born there.
1903-1910- Plain City, OH.  Three of their children were born there. Joseph died there and was buried the day after what would have  been his 3rd birthday.
1910-1913 Texas
1913-1915 Kokomo, IN
1915-1946 Sherwood, OH  --  Fannie died in 1944 and was buried there
1946-1952- Jonas moved to Kalona with his daughter Catherine and husband. After Jonas' death in 1952, he was buried in Ohio beside Fannie.


Because of the Amish customs of the times, I marvel that my grandparents gave nine of their ten children two names, a first and middle name, in addition, of course, to their Beachy surname.  Only one, Joseph (Joe), reflected the common practice of assigning the initial of the father's first name to the children as the middle name.  Thus Joseph is Joseph A. (for Ananias).  Less commonly, the mother's initial was assigned.  As I recall them, they gave the following names to their children:
Ray Edward, deceased (married to Anna May Miller--Iowa, deceased)
John Emery, deceased (married to Edna Mae Gingerich--Iowa, deceased)
Glen Everett, deceased (married to Susan Mae Yoder--Iowa, deceased)
Earl Jason, deceased (married to Mary E. Bender--Iowa, deceased)
Fannie Jane (married to Eli C. Miller--Ohio, deceased)
Jonas Paul, deceased (married to Magdalena Hershberger--Iowa, deceased)
Joseph A. (married to Mary Miller--my father's sister--Kansas)
Mary Elizabeth, deceased (married to David L. Miller--Kansas, deceased)
Jesse Samuel (married to Betty "Ruth" Miller--Indiana, deceased)
Esther Viola (married to Henry Zook--Virginia, deceased)

The above list is given in order of age.  Several observations:  The three oldest sons all married a woman whose middle name was Mae (or May), the same as their mother's middle name.  "Mae" must have peaked as a popular middle name in my parents' generation.  Joseph is the only surviving "child" whose spouse also survives.  Joe's wife Mary is my father's sister, so this is a double blessing for my siblings and me.   

In spite of some innovations in name choice, my grandparents did the expected thing also in choosing names by naming their children after their siblings and parents.  John was a namesake for Ella's  father and brother.. Fannie Jane's first name honored both grandmothers and an aunt.  Fannie was the name of Ananias' mother and sister, and Jane was the middle name of Ella Mae's mother.  Jonas was a namesake for Ananias' father.   Esther was a namesake for Ananias' sister, Mary for Ella's sister, and Jesse for Ella's brother. 

Although my mother and Jesse were the only children of my grandparents who lived outside of Iowa during most of their adult years, the Iowa siblings were soon spread out in various church groups.  Glen and Earl are the only "children" who stayed Old Order Amish  Glen was ordained as a minister in the Old Order church when he was in his fifties.  Ray, Fannie, John, and Jonas joined the "Conservative Mennonites" early on, as did Joe later, but Jonas and John and their families withdrew from that group and became part of what is now known as "Nationwide" churches.   Ray's family also withdrew eventually and became associated with the Shiloh group, thought of by many as a fringe group with cult-like tendencies.  Esther's family in Iowa and my mother's family in Kansas were Beachys for many years.  Then Esther's family joined Salem, a group somewhat like our local Prairie Chapel.  Jesse married a Beachy girl (from Woodlawn in Indiana), but was ordained in the Conservative Mennonite church conference--in Wisconsin, I believe.  Later they parted ways with the "Rosedale" group.   Virginia was their home in later years.  If this all sounds pretty complicated, I'm not surprised.  It feels that way to me too.

Family stories and memories will come in a later post.